Op-Ed

Don’t rush Haiti’s presidential vote

Supporters of Haitian presidential candidate Jovenel Moise hold a demonstration in Port-au-Prince to demand that a final round of voting not be postponed any longer. No date for the election has been set by the interim government.
Supporters of Haitian presidential candidate Jovenel Moise hold a demonstration in Port-au-Prince to demand that a final round of voting not be postponed any longer. No date for the election has been set by the interim government. AP

Peace and development will be endangered in Haiti if the United States and other nations insist that the interim government holds the second round of a truncated election for president without a verification process of last October’s round of voting.

The secretary-general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, who visited Haiti last week, was right to say that the Haitian authorities should be given time to organize the elections. He had invited me to accompany him to Haiti because I had led an earlier OAS mission that oversaw an agreement between the political players that led to the creation of an interim government after former President Michel Martelly left office in February when his term expired. Although I could not join him on this visit, I fully endorse his statement.

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Among the observer groups at the Oct. 25 elections was the OAS. At the time, we faced continuous claims from Haitians that the OAS contributed to foisting flawed election results by declaring them acceptable. Of course, this allegation was robustly resisted not only because it was absolutely untrue, but also because we knew it had become a convenient political crutch for all the candidates who had performed badly at the polls.

But, resisting an ill-conceived belief does not extinguish it, particularly as other observer missions declared that the elections were plagued by irregularities. The admission that, while numerous, the irregularities were not significant enough to materially affect the outcome of the elections did little to assuage suspicion. Like a sore that has been allowed to fester for almost six months, suspicion of the elections has spread more widely in the Haitian body politic.

The Oct. 25 elections delivered a runoff between Jovenel Moïse of Martelly’s PHTK party after he received 32.76 percent of the vote and Jude Célestin of the LAPEH party, who received 25.29 percent. The other 50 candidates shared less than 32 percent. That run-off was not completed before Martelly was due to leave office.

It was that failure to hold the second round of elections amid political confusion and simmering violence that led to the Feb.5 political agreement to establish an interim government that would hold runoff elections on April 24 and install an elected president on May 14. (Haiti’s government and elections council have acknowledged that the elections will not happen on Sunday and have not yet set a date).

As it turned out, continuing distrust between the political actors within and outside the National Assembly required a longer period of time than anticipated to select an interim president and prime minister. The same distrust continues to haunt the second round of the elections. The specter of a flawed first round election hangs ominously over the second. This is why the majority of political players are insisting on verification. The argument is simple: If the first round was tainted, however strenuous the scrutiny of the second round, the entire process is contaminated.

Any president in Haiti who is not widely regarded as legitimately elected with a mandate to govern, will not be able to hold the country together and to give it the leadership it needs for tough choices that lie ahead. In such circumstances, the persistent poverty and underdevelopment that has plagued Haiti will deepen and the potential for political conflict and civil strife will intensify.

Consequently, the U.N. forces in Haiti that contributing countries are keen to withdraw will be compelled to remain, and the flow of refugees to the United States particularly will re-surge.

Against this background, it is far better to verify the first round elections before proceeding with the second. I was heartened by a reported statement on behalf of the United States by its Special Coordinator on Haiti, Ambassador Ken Merten, to the effect that if Haiti wants a verification process it should do so quickly.

Once the verification is complete, elections can follow quickly.

What the international community should now do is provide Haiti’s new nine-member provisional electoral council, headed by Léopold Berlanger, with the tools it needs to establish a verification committee and set it to work.

If Jovenel Moïse and Jude Célestin, who emerged from the first round as contenders, have faith in their electability, they should have no fear of verification and of their capacity for one to triumph over the other in a free and fair process.

Sir Ronald Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the United States and the OAS.

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